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2017 Team Report: Los Angeles Chargers

Offensive Philosophy

It seems every recent Chargers season has started out the same, making gestures towards balance until the ball is snapped and things start going wrong, then just putting everything on Philip Rivers and the passing game, only to watch it wear down in the second half of the season. Rivers has led the NFL in interceptions in two of the last three seasons, and he led the league in attempts in the third. This year, the Chargers seem to have jettisoned the "gesture towards balance" part; after spending a top-10 draft pick on receiver Mike Williams to anchor what was already a phenomenal receiver depth chart, San Diego seems to be acknowledging early that they'll only go so far as their 36-year-old franchise player's arm will take them.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici

Starting QB: Philip Rivers is one of the safest options in the NFL. Despite another year with offensive line injuries, the loss of Danny Woodhead (ACL in Week 2) and a second straight season without Keenan Allen (ACL tear in Week 1), Rivers held it together and delivered a 33-touchdown season-one away from his career high. 2016's No. 8 fantasy passer got strong production from second-year option Tyrell Williams and additional support from free agent signee Travis Benjamin. The team's ability to incorporate rookie Hunter Henry into the offense helped the scheme become less predictable, especially in the red zone with two-tight end sets. Perhaps the greatest asset for Rivers was running back Melvin Gordon, who earned 41 receptions and was a steady enough force on the ground to keep the offense more balanced. Rivers has three years left on a five-year extension, so he is probably locked in as the Chargers' starter until he retires.

Backup QB: Behind Rivers, Kellen Clemens won the number two job over Zach Mettenberger (released) last year. Clemens has been Philip Rivers' backup for the past three seasons in San Diego, but has gotten almost no playing time. In his time with the Jets and Rams, Clemens showed an ability to manage the offense, but has poor arm strength and accuracy. If the Chargers carry three quarterbacks, rookie Mike Bercovici will be the number three. Bercovici arguably outplayed Clemens during the preseason in 2016. He has a big arm and plays well from the pocket. He got cut at the end of the preseason and had a brief stint in Green Bay before signing a futures deal with the Chargers at season's end.

Running Backs

Starter: Melvin Gordon
Backup(s): Andre Williams, Kenneth Farrow, Branden Oliver, Andre Williams, Kenjon Barner
Fullback(s): Derek Watt

Starting RB: As a rookie, Melvin Gordon faced high expectations entering 2015, but didn't come close to meeting them. He averaged just under 3.5 yards per carry on the season and failed to score a touchdown on 217 touches. Gordon ran hard and flashed some power and balance, but he seemed to lack the quickness and speed evident on his college game tapes. It is hard to thoroughly evaluate his ability to find the hole based on his 2015 season, however, since on so many of his runs there was no hole. Gordon fully recovered from the microfracture surgery over the offseason and while his yards-per-carry average didn't show it (3.9), he was substantially better in 2016, earning 1316 total yards and 12 touchdowns, including 41 receptions-good enough to be the No. 8 RB in fantasy football and a Pro Bowl invitation. Gordon wasn't known for his receiving ability at Wisconsin because the Badgers don't throw the ball a lot to its back, but he showed good hands in limited targets as a collegiate star. The fact that he performed well as a receiver soothed some of the sting of losing Danny Woodhead. He'll be the feature back again this year. The only concern is that it's his second year in a row that he didn't start all 16 games (PCL tear in Week 13).

Backup RBs: Kenneth Farrow was an undrafted free agent from Houston who ran hard last year when the team lost Gordon, Woodhead, and Oliver. Farrow is a good receiver and a high-effort tough guy who lacks great athletic ability but works hard. If Oliver returns in good shape (Achilles), Farrow will take a backseat to the former Buffalo star that has a little more burst. Williams is a big back with good athletic ability that doesn't translate because he lacks the vision to leverage these skills. Barner has the big-play potential of a scat back, but he has never found a home behind packed depth charts in Carolina and Philadelphia. He could be the dark horse candidate to earn the primary backup role with a good camp.

Fullback: The Chargers did not use a fullback in 2015, but employed a lead blocker to help Melvin Gordon in the running game in 2016 when they drafted Gordon's former fullback at Wisconsin, Derek Watt. J.J. Watt's younger brother started all four years at Wisconsin and is considered a well-rounded fullback, competent as a blocker, runner, and receiver, but not truly exceptional in any category.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin
Backups: Dontrelle Inman, Jevontee Herndon, Geremy Davis, Da'Ron Brown, Isaiah Burse, Jamaal Jones

Starting WRs: Keenan Allen once again started strong, but was lost for the year after tearing his ACL in the opener. Prior to the injury, Allen changed his diet and lost weight so he could regain the lightning quickness he showed as an underclassman at Cal. He still has WR1 upside long-term due to his crisp route-running hands, and rapport with Rivers. Expect Allen's production to gradually increase as the year progresses. Travis Benjamin gave the Chargers a dangerous speedster as a free-agent signee from Cleveland last year. Benjamin earned a pair of 100-yard weeks during the first 5 weeks of the season where he totaled 28 catches, 394 yards, and 2 scores. However, this was over half of his production for the year, because he tore his PCL early in the year and played through the injury. He had arthroscopic surgery in February. It's possible that Allen and Benjamin could rotate turns in the slot thanks to the emergence of Tyrell Williams and the addition of rookie Mike Williams. Tyrell is a tall, super-quick receiver with strength, and he built on the flashes he displayed as a rookie, turning in a 69-catch, 1095-yard, 7-score sophomore effort. As 2016's No. 13 fantasy receiver, he made big plays on the perimeter against tight coverage and earned yards after the catch over the middle. He was Rivers' most reliable option when the offense needed a play. When trailing close, Williams had 15 catches for 217 yards (18.1 ypc) and 3 touchdowns. Mike is a heralded rookie from Clemson who is known for his production on fade routes, but his best routes are crossers, hitches, and slants, which allow him to run after the catch. It's a good match for the Chargers offense and he should figure in as part of the rotation early.

Backup WRs: Dontrelle Inman is the fourth receiver. He has some big-play ability due to his combination of height, jumping ability, and deep speed; but he is not a refined route-runner and he is inconsistent as a pass catcher. He'll only earn extended playing time if there's a repeat of 2015-2016's injuries. Isaiah Burse, in his third NFL season, will try to catch on as the fifth wide receiver, but would likely be relegated to special teams play. He's a slot option lacking top speed. Jevontee Herndon is a practice squad option from Arkansas. Geremy Davis has excellent size and he uses it well to win the ball. He lacks great speed, but has made developmental progress during his first two years in the league with the Giants. Da'Ron Brown began his career in Kansas City. He's skilled after the catch, but raw as a route runner. He'll compete on special teams. Jamaal Jones starred at Montana. He's a tough, 6'1", 187-pound option, but lacking great athletic upside.

Tight Ends

Starters: Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates
Backups: Jeff Cumberland, Sean McGrath, Jake McGee, Asante Cleveland

Antonio Gates will be 37years old when the season starts, but he's coming off his 13th consecutive season as a worthwhile fantasy starter in 12-team leagues. It was Gate's 11th year with at least 7 touchdowns. Gates and 2016 second-round pick Hunter Henry starred in two-tight end sets most of the year. Although Gates has never been a strong blocker, Henry was the weaker of the two in the run game, and the Chargers used Henry as an H-Back with even fewer blocking responsibilities than Gates last year. This may continue in 2017, because Henry is an excellent receiver who displayed skill to sneak through the line on misdirection plays to get open. However, Henry will have to improve his blocking if he wants to develop into an every-down star. As a safeguard against the potential for Gates declining even further this year, the Chargers added veteran Jeff Cumberland as its third option. Cumberland is a competent receiver and blocker who can step in for Gates and keep the two-tight end sets a viable option for the offense. Sean McGrath or Asante Cleveland if either one makes the team, might be more special-teamers than anything else. They have no fantasy value.

Place Kicker

Josh Lambo, Younghoe Koo [R]: Josh Lambo had an identical 26 of 32 line in field goal accuracy to his rookie year of 2015. His distance accuracy suffered, with no makes in three attempts from 50+ and he also missed four of 46 extra point attempts. The Chargers did sign Younghoe Koo from Georgia Southern after the draft. Koo made 19 of 20 attempts last year and if he has a strong summer, he could cause the Chargers to have second thoughts about Lambo. Lambo is playing on a very cheap undrafted free agent deal, so Koo will have to decisively beat him to win the job. Either way, Lambo isn't worth a pick in typical leagues.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Isaiah Burse

Burse has bounced between practice squads for most of his NFL career before getting game-day action as San Diego's primary returner over the latter half of the season. With former competition Dexter McCluster gone, Burse returns as the favorite for the job in 2017.

Punt Returners: Travis Benjamin, Isaiah Burse

Travis Benjamin has one of the highest punt return averages in NFL history, (he currently ranks 6th), and was all set to handle the job for San Diego last year. An early-season injury to Keenan Allen and an expanded role on offense scuttled those plans, opening the door for Isaiah Burse. With Allen back, highly-drafted rookie Mike Williams joining, and last year's breakout sensation Tyrell Williams waiting in the wings, Benjamin should be free to focus more on special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Russell Okung, Forrest Lamp [R], Matt Slauson, Donavon Clark, Joe Barksdale LT Russell Okung, LG Orlando Franklin, C Matt Slauson, RG Donavon Clark, RT Joe Barksdale
Key Backups: Chris Hairston, Tyreek Burwell, Dan Feeney [R], Max Tuerk

The Chargers' offensive line improved this offseason with the acquisition of left tackle Russell Okung via free agency. Okung started all 16 games for the Broncos, thus proving he is capable of staying healthy. The team hopes for a bounce back effort out of Joe Barksdale at right tackle, who was a competent pass protector before last season. Second-round pick Forrest Lamp (or possibly third round pick Dan Feeney) and Matt Slauson provide a solid power duo on the interior while right guard Donavon Clark should be pushed heavily by the two rookies, Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. Chris Hairston should be the swing tackle again and the team likes Tyreek Burwell's upside. Overall the Chargers' offensive line is a low tier group but can rise in the rankings with better right tackle play and as their rookie guards develop.

Team Defense

For some reason, a Chargers D/ST that finished in the top ten across scoring formats is still going outside of the top ten in 2017 drafts. They tied for the league lead in interceptions (18) and defensive scores (5). The team will get the benefit of a full offseason with 2016 holdout Joey Bosa, who was a revelation. Add Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu and the team has a fearsome threesome of edge rushers. The defense saw very little turnover personnel-wise, but they did add Gus Bradley as their defensive coordinator and will move to a 4-3 defense. Youth at inside linebacker with Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman will make the transition easier, and the team still has maybe the best corner combination in the league in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett. Verrett only played four games last year due to injury, so it's easy to see an already good unit improving if he can stay healthy this year. This is a great D/ST to target as a potential D/ST1 available outside of the top ten off of the board.

Defensive Line

Starters: LE Joey Bosa, NT Brandon Mebane, DT Corey Liuget, RE Melvin Ingram
Backups: DE Jeremiah Attaochu, DE Chris Landrum, DT Darius Philon, DT Tenny Palepoi, NT Ryan Carrethers

Starting DL: Rookie holdouts, evidently, aren't always a death knell. After losing his first 4 NFL games to a holdout and subsequent injury, Bosa ran away with Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, notching 10.5 sacks over the final 12. He's a relatively one-dimensional guy, and he may never compile big tackle numbers, but his true 18-sack upside means he'll be a yearly candidate to excel without them. In general, don't fret over his lack of peripheral stats. They fluctuate wildly, and a gifted rusher like Bosa is fully capable of creating splash plays. He was adept at forcing fumbles in school, so I'm expecting that to turn up shortly. Target him comfortably among the second tier of pass rushers - and make him a priority if you're required to start linemen. Ingram looks headed for a semi-breakout. His first full season yielded decent all-around numbers, and he carries the potential for double-digit sacks. He's not necessarily a DL1 target, but his upside is right there, in the 2016 Lorenzo Alexander range. Liuget's potential has yet to be realized; his numbers have declined steadily across the board since his breakout 2012, and he's no longer worth a draft pick outside the deepest of DL-required leagues. There's little sack potential to go with his good-not-great tackle numbers. Mebane will man the middle following a 2016 biceps tear. He's a fine run-stuffer, but doesn't make plays and hasn't topped 24 tackles in 4 years.

Backup DL: Attaochu just oozes pass-rush potential - he's an ultra-explosive athlete who's produced a solid 8.0 sacks over 1,022 NFL snaps. After losing most of 2016 to various injuries, he'll be counted on to rebound as the team's only dynamic piece of outside depth. Landrum will see spot snaps behind the starters and Attaochu, but doesn't have the outlook of a major contributor. The rest are clear-cut rotational guys who matter to the Chargers when they shift into three-down fronts, but not to us. All would see extended field time if Liuget or Mebane go down again, but there's simply no fantasy value there. None would the threaten tackle or big-play numbers that blip the radar.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Jatavis Brown, MLB Denzel Perryman, SLB Kyle Emanuel
Backups: MLB Korey Toomer, WLB/SLB Josh Perry, MLB Nick Dzubnar

Starting LBs: In Brown and Perryman, the Chargers have assembled a talented, young tackling corps that boasts an awesome fantasy outlook. Brown appears to lead the charge; if there's a rockstar in this group, it's likely him. A mega-fast (4.44 40-yard dash) and explosive spark plug, Brown earned a starting inside 3-4 job early in his rookie year and ran with it. Across 12 rookie games with a healthy snap count, he averaged a stout 6.7 tackles, and on the year he chimed in 3.5 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 2 forced fumbles. Shifting to the weak side, there's real potential here for a LB1 season, and he'll be available on the relative cheap - cheaper than Perryman, in fact. It would be hard to go wrong with Perryman, of course, who's developing into a very solid run-stuffer, as a LB2 with moderate upside. But he doesn't project to produce all-around on the level of Brown. Perryman doesn't contribute much on passing downs, and he actually tackled at a lesser rate than Brown last year. Emanuel is a steady presence on the strong side, but he's simply not in a playmaking role. He managed just 58 tackles and 0.5 sack over a full 2016.

Backup LBs: Toomer stepped in for Jatavis Brown late last year and was surprisingly effective, managing 49 tackles over 5 starts. He's very solid depth and could again be waiver-wire gold in the case of a starter injury. His athleticism and the Chargers' scheme afford him one of the league's best fantasy outlooks among strict backups. Perry is another intriguing backup; he's a size-speed guy from Ohio State who can back up both outside spots as well as the middle. Still, he and Dzubnar are low-totem options who will primarily play special teams.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Jason Verrett, SS Jahleel Addae, FS Dwight Lowery, RCB Casey Hayward
Backups: FS Rayshawn Jenkins [R], SS Desmond King [R], CB Craig Mager

Starting DBs: The Chargers field one of the league's best cornerback duos - when they're healthy. Both Verrett and Hayward are sticky ballhawks, and both are weekly threats to make splash plays. Hayward has taken great steps toward shedding his "injury risk" tag, and he's played (quite well) in each of his teams' last 32 games. He was simply dynamite in 2016, racking up 20 passes defensed and 7 interceptions to team with solid CB tackle numbers. But we know how those numbers can fluctuate, especially for a shutdown guy like Hayward, who will probably be thrown toward much less in 2017. He's one of the top playmaking CBs to target in fantasy, but likely won't match up as well this year with the top 20-25 safeties. Verrett carries a lot of upside, as he's also quite adept at making plays on the ball, but he's missed 25 of 48 games as a pro. The uncertainty makes him generally hands-off in fantasy, unless you're required to start multiple CBs. The safeties, as usual, carry most of the appeal here. Addae was dynamite across 8 starts, racking up 50 tackles and 4 passes defensed despite a broken collarbone splitting up his season. He also brings some blitzing chops, so a season of 100 or so tackles and a DB1/2's share of splash plays could be in the cards. He's a sneaky DB2 with real DB1 upside. Lowery is a fairly average DB3 option. He makes plays at a fairly consistent rate, but maxes out projection-wise around 55 tackles.

Backup DBs: Rookies Jenkins and King will likely back up the safeties. Jenkins is an athletic centerfielder type who can also make plays in the box; he projects well if he wins the backup job outright and is pressed into action. King is a converted cornerback who lacks athleticism but carries gobs of experience. Mager saw ample time as a 2016 rookie after Jason Verrett went down at midseason. He showed well and boasts serious speed and dynamism; if a starter goes down, Mager would step into heavy rotation in a stat-happy group.

Last modified: 2017-06-13 14:25:53